St Mary's College, Durham

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St Mary's College
St Mary's College, Durham.svg
University Durham University
Location Durham City
Coordinates 54°45′59″N 1°34′40″W / 54.7665°N 1.5778°W / 54.7665; -1.5778Coordinates: 54°45′59″N 1°34′40″W / 54.7665°N 1.5778°W / 54.7665; -1.5778
Motto Ancilla Domini
Motto in English The handmaid of the Lord
Established 1899
Named for Saint Mary
Principal Simon Hackett
Undergraduates 641
Postgraduates 35
Senior tutor Gillian Boughton
St Mary's College, Durham is located in Durham, England
St Mary's College, Durham
Location within Durham, England

St Mary's College is a college of the University of Durham in England. Following the grant of a supplemental charter in 1895 allowing women to receive degrees of the university, St Mary's was founded as the Women's Hostel in 1899, adopting its present name in May 1920.


Abbey House

St Mary's original location was at 33 Claypath with six students before moving into Abbey House and then to The College behind Durham Cathedral. This is now occupied by the Chorister School. It is one of the Hill colleges on Elvet Hill, having been situated there since it moved into the Fergusson Building on the new site in 1952. The foundation stone for the Fergusson Building was laid in 1947 by Her Royal Highness Princess Elizabeth. Of all the colleges currently located on the Hill, St Mary's is the only one to have been originally founded in the 19th century.

For several decades there had been debates about St Mary’s continuing as a single-sex college within the University, and it had been originally mooted in the 1970s that it should go mixed. The Middle Common Room, which consisted of postgraduate students, went mixed in the early 1990s. St Mary's was the last of Durham's colleges to become entirely mixed when it took in both males and females at undergraduate level in 2005, ending over a hundred years of tradition. During the decision-making process the student body was split. Some members of the College felt so strongly against the proposed plans in 2000 that they protested, marching on the University Offices at Old Shire Hall. There had been several polls of the student body over the issue of the College going mixed, and from 1999 onwards these were held almost annually. The results tended to be close, but marginally in favour of retaining the status quo.

The transition to a mixed college took place in 2005, and the first male JCR President, James Liddell, was elected in 2009. The college still provides single-sex accommodation for both sexes as and when required. The recently refurbished Shepherd wing (previously the Mews) of the Fergusson building is a segregated women's-only area for students who, for personal, religious or other reasons, would prefer single sex accommodation, and has proved very popular in the academic year 2006-2007. A refurbishment of the Williamson building took place between July and December 2007 and included the replacement of the central heating system, a new roof and full refurbishment of all study bedrooms at a cost of £1.5 million.

Facilities & Traditions[edit]

St Mary's College Lawn

The College is centred on two main buildings: the Fergusson and Williamson Buildings. The Fergusson building, designed by Vincent Harris, was built in the early 1950s and houses most of the College facilities, including the college's dining hall, two computer rooms, the College library, the Chapel, a laundry, two student common rooms and three music rooms. The Chapel is located on the top floor of the North East wing and was designed by the ecclesiastical architect George Pace. In addition to an interiors and furniture produced by Thompson of Kilburn (the Mouseman), it now houses a sculpture of the Blessed Virgin Mary by acclaimed sculptor Fenwick Lawson, which was commissioned in 2005 by the College.

The basement location of the Chapel prior to the 1960s now houses the JCR Bar which is managed by a Student Sabbatical Bars Steward. Opposite the Bar entrance is the Toastie Bar. At the other end of the basement is the JCR Shop which stocks sweets and snacks as well as toiletries, college clothing and some memorabilia.

The Williamson building was built in the early 1960s and is mainly an accommodation block with 110 study bedrooms. On the ground floor there is a student common room and one half of the lower ground floor contains the JCR fitness room and a laundry.

The majority of students located on site are first years, who are required to 'live in'. These students change rooms each term using a 'room ballot' system to ensure that no-one has to share a room for more than one term of their first year. 2nd, 3rd and 4th year students often choose to 'live out' in houses around Durham, although accommodation is available on-site for those who want it. All those who live on site are fully catered, except in exceptional circumstances.

In the 1990s three ensuite blocks were built on to the front of the Williamson building and are the only ensuite rooms in the college, with the exception of a few located in the Shepherd Wing. These are mainly filled by 2nd, 3rd or 4th year students who move back into college accommodation, but some are made available to students from any year group who require an ensuite room for medical or personal reasons.

The College requires the wearing of gowns at formal dinners, which are held between two and three times a term and on the first and last Sunday of each term. Further to this the College requires gowns to be worn at JCR meetings and Matriculation.

College shield and arms[edit]

The college arms are blazoned as "Argent a Cross Formy Quadrate Gules a Chief Azure thereon a Durham Mitre Or between two Lilies proper."

The college's motto is "Ancilla Domini" and can be translated to "Handmaiden of the Lord."

List of Principals[edit]

Entrance to St Mary's
  • 1899 Miss Laura Roberts
  • 1900 Miss Elizabeth Robinson
  • 1913 Miss Phyllis Wragge
  • 1915 Miss Rachel E D Donaldson
  • 1940 Miss Margaret B Fergusson
  • 1955 Dame Elsie Marjorie Williamson
  • 1962 Mrs Mary Holdsworth
  • 1974 Mrs Florence I Prowse (née Calvert)
  • 1977 Miss Joan M Kenworthy
  • 1999 Miss Jenifer L Hobbs
  • 2007 Professor Phil Gilmartin
  • 2011 Professor Simon Hackett


Main entrance to the Fergusson Building

External links[edit]